Rebels repel assault on Misrata, five dead
Rebel fighters ride on a tank captured from Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces in Benghazi. REUTERS

The imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya has succeeded in one thing at least: it has enforced a stalemate onto what was seemingly the opening moves of the Libyan civil war.

This intervention is certainly a welcome development for those rebels who are fighting to rid themselves of Gaddafi. While some in the media and in political circles may have gotten carried away speaking of Gaddafi and Rwanda style "genocide", there is little doubt that without the passage of UN Resolution 1973 the rebels and civilians in Benghazi may well have suffered something resembling a massacre.

In such an event rather than the present stalemate Gaddafi might well be in the ascendant and on and his way to restoring his control over the whole country. Had this been allowed to happen Gaddafi's grip over the country may have become even stronger than before the protest, as he would have been able to repress his own people with both him and them knowing that the international community will do nothing to stop him.

In this respect the no-fly zone has proved to be a good emergency measure to stave off a disaster. However it still leaves Libya divided between pro and anti Gaddafi forces, with neither side able to defeat the other.

While the international community is doing its best to ensure that the rebellion is not crushed, the rebels themselves do not seem to have the military and logistical capability to strike with any real strength from Benghazi across vast desert distances to Tripoli.

If the international community really wants to see the back of Gaddafi (as the leaders of the USA, France and Britain all have said they do), then ground troops are going to be needed.

An alliance between the rebels and international troops seems at present to be the only way in which the "long war" which Gaddafi has promised can be avoided.

As well as ensuring the removal of Gaddafi the involvement of troops from democratic governments must also ensure that a post-Gaddafi Libya, does not prove to be just as bad as the rule of Gaddafi himself.

Much as westerners may like the look of rebels fighting for freedom from Gaddafi, these people are not the minutemen or the Continental Army. So far as we know there is no Libyan George Washington or Thomas Jefferson.

Those international leaders which have made the loudest calls for Gaddafi to go, would look rather foolish if their actions only helped a new dictator to rise in his place. In the west political leaders called for Hosni Mubarak in next door Egypt to step down. He did and was replaced by a military government which only today banned strikes and protests. Is this progress we can be proud of or change we can believe in?

Even if the rebels were capable of beating Gaddafi by themselves we in the west have little evidence to suggest that they will be able to form a halfway decent government in a country where the only political institution which has not atrophied is the family of Gaddafi himself.

The opposition itself seems to be united by nothing except hatred of Gaddafi. If they were to gain victory who's to say they will not descend into infighting in the resulting vacuum, thus turning the country into a Mediterranean Somalia? Or perhaps worse who's to say that the rebellion will be hijacked by dark forces, turning into a new Syria or Iran?

On the BBC's Daily Politics show one anti Gaddafi activist, Dr Faraj Najem, spoke of his brother, a construction worker who is currently fighting in Libya with the rebels (and was wounded a couple of weeks ago). "He knows nothing about politics", said Dr Najem.

Maybe they were not meant to be, but these were not encouraging words for those who want to see the rebels as warriors for democracy. Still less encouraging is the news, as Praveen Swami of the Telegraph reports, that rebel commander Tarek Saad Husain, told the people of Gaddafi's home town "Either you join us, or we will finish you", while in the town of Derna rebels formed an a new "Islamic emirate".

Arming and providing air support to the rebels, even if it were enough to topple Gaddafi, might well be a mistake on a par with that made by the CIA when it supported the Islamic fundamentalists who kicked the Soviets out of Afghanistan and went on to harbour those who destroyed the World Trade Center.

If the international community is serious about removing Gaddafi and securing freedom and democracy in Libya then it must send at least a limited ground force to defeat Gaddafi, but more importantly to ensure that he is not replaced by some of the wilder elements of the rebels, but by fair and free elections.

The rebels and their supporters (such as Dr Najem), say that they do not want international troops to help them on the ground but that they do want a no fly zone to protect them. Good as this may sound it means that the rebels would like all benefits of international help but none of the accountability.

It may take another UN resolution (Resolution 1973 forbids an occupation) but ground troops, preferably from an international body like NATO or the UN, are almost certainly going to be needed to prevent a long war, remove Gaddafi and ensure that he is replaced by a democracy rather than a new dictator or years of infighting.